Anglo-American folk music with similar sounds and themes to neofolk existed as far back as the 1960s. Folk musicians such as Vulcan's Hammer, Changes, Leonard Cohen, and Comus could be considered harbingers of the sound that later influenced the neofolk artists. Also the later explorations of Velvet Underground's band members, specifically those of Lou Reed, have been called a major influence to what later became neofolk.
A majority of artists within the neofolk genre focus on archaic, cultural and literary references. Local traditions and indigenous beliefs tend to be portrayed heavily as well as esoteric and historical topics.
Various forms of neopaganism and occultism play a part in the themes touched upon by many modern and original neofolk artists. Runic alphabets, heathen European sites and other means of expressing an interest in the ancient and ancestral occurs often in neofolk music. Aesthetically, references to this subject occur within band names, album artwork, clothing and various other means of artistic expression. This has led to some forefathers of the genre and current artists within the genre attributing it to being an aspect of a broader neopagan revival.
Related terms and styles
As a descriptor, apocalyptic folk predates neofolk and was used by David Tibet to describe the music of his band Current 93 during a period in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Initially, Tibet did not intend to imply connection with the folk music genre; rather, that Current 93 was made by "apocalyptic folk[s]": in other words, apocalyptic people. Tibet and Current 93 did dabble in covers of traditional English folk song and Tibet himself was a great advocate for reclusive English folk singer Shirley Collins.
Other vague terms sometimes used to describe artists of this genre include "dark folk" and "pagan folk". These terms are umbrella terms that also describe various other forms of unrelated music.
Martial industrial or military pop is a genre that shares a lot in common with neofolk and developed very close to it.
^"I'm very happy about that because I see Death In June as part of a European cultural revival. I'm pleased that the Old Gods are being resurrected, for want of a better word. Old symbols. I feel very pleased that I am a part of that process and that I have had influence. At this stage in the game, so to speak, it's not false modesty to say that I am content with my influence." Powell, Erin. Interview with Douglas PearceArchived 2007-10-18 at the Wayback Machine., 2005.